Preparing the way?

This weekend we began the observance of Advent. The Coming. I heard a lot of teaching and songs about getting ready, preparing ourselves. My mind wanders back to a cold December night in Oswego, NY. I scrape frost from the window and watch snow falling in the street light. A white Christmas must make it better, at least that what the songs says–dreaming of it. And sleighs can’t be jingling their bells that make everyone happy unless there is snow to slide on. But when I drop the curtain and return to wrapping gifts, I wonder what I can do. How do I prepare enough to make Christmas right? To keep us all safe?

We are one-less this Christmas, though his name is never spoken. Mac’s stocking is missing when we unpack the ornaments and decorations. My three-year-old brother, who drowned last summer, loved everyone. He always sang “Jesus Loves Me” while he played. He begged us to sit in the front pew in church so he could greet Jesus (and sing with gusto, though his hymnal was upside down and he was one syllable behind the choir). What did Mac do wrong?

In my ten-year-old mind, if we please God, then good things happen to us. So if bad things happen, we must be doing something wrong.

What did I do wrong?

And what can I do this Christmas to get the baby back in the manger?

It has taken many decades to purge my thoughts of the lies about being able to do it all right, and make it all right.

But it is easy to slide back into polish-yourself-up-and-get-presentable thinking.

When you hear, “Prepare the way,” do you go there, too, either by decorating beautifully, or baking up a storm, trying to create the magic that we wish is Christmas? Or buying the best gifts ever? Singing fantastic Christmas music, or decorating the church, or taking food to the poor? By being nice when you want to curse or helping someone you might usually ignore? Maybe you even read the Bible more or go to church when you don’t feel like it?

We have a million different ways to try to pave our way to the manger.

Or perhaps you shy from the light, feeling you don’t deserve to go in there, where candles flicker, and “Come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” drifts out the open door?

Maybe you are the one closest to the truth.

We don’t deserve to creep up the manger.

We don’t deserve a Redeemer.

We don’t deserve Abundant Life.

It’s all a gift.

Once again, I go to my favorite prophet, Isaiah, who calls to us from the very distant past.

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought GOD’s saving power would look like this? Isaiah 53: 1 MSG

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. “So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
Isaiah 43 2-5 MSG

Reassured, I flip forward, spanning centuries, and land on the book written by the youngest follower of Jesus, John. He called himself the one Jesus loved.

How loved he must have felt to write that!

Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light…whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
John 1:3-4,9,12 MSG

Tonight, I’ll our Advent candle in peace, knowing I can’t, and don’t have to make myself, my home, my family, my writing — anything perfect for Christmas. I can give up trying to make everything right (again).

I don’t need to try to be the savior.

He came as an infant over 2,000 years ago, and made the way for us that we could never reach on our own.

That’s why those angels were singing!

I think I’ll hum along.

When HoHoHo-ing doesn’t cut it

Days are shorter. There is a slight chill in the Florida air, enough to make the Christmas lights fit in. (After living some of my childhood further north, Christmas ‘should’ be cold.) With limitations following my hip surgery, most of my preparations have been online shopping, though I’d much rather be outside on a ladder hanging lights. Since this enforced inactivity has gone on for so long, sometimes I feel out of step, almost futile.

Perhaps the very-pregnant Mary on her forever donkey ride to Bethlehem had moments like that. I wonder how many times she had to replay the angel’s words in her mind, and bite back complaints about the bumpy ride, or her weariness.

I wonder how many times she thought, “It shouldn’t be like this.”

When a child dies, I pray for the grieving family and say, “It shouldn’t be like this.”

When a careless or drunk driver crashes into a vehicle, killing a family or a busload of children, I say, “It shouldn’t be like this.”

When a plane crashes into a mountain, wiping out a complete soccer team of hopeful young men, one who had just learned he was to be a father, I say, “It shouldn’t be like this.”

When I recall my mother’s slow, cruel decline into dementia, and the aching loss after her death, I say, “It shouldn’t be like this.”

There is so much at work in this world that warps creation, thwarts our good intentions, strives to bend and destroy.

And, rather than jingling bells, at the time of the year when we expect cheer, we may feel out of sync with the bustle of activity and the brightness of the lights.

bird-in-interstion-of-i-75-and-university-blvd

Like this bewildered bird who landed in a construction zone in the midst of traffic where winter nesting grounds used to be, sometimes we aren’t celebrating.

We feel more like life is chewing us up and spitting us out. Barricaded from life as it should be.

It shouldn’t be like this.

The Genesis account in the garden shows us what life should be like.
Maui gardensBird in flight at sunsethappy bird in Celery Fields
Perfect. Whole. Alive.

And walking with God in the cool of the evening.

Isn’t that precisely why Mary had to endure that bone wrenching ride? Why God entered our story, born as a human child, suffering all we suffer, and growing into a man who looked down from the cross and saw clearly, “It shouldn’t be like this.”

Then he cried, “It is finished!” and the work of redemption of creation began.

But the transformation isn’t complete yet. That’s one of the reasons we celebrate Advent. We look forward to the time when Jesus returns as king of the world.

And, finally, everything will be as it should.

No more tears.
No more pain.
No more brokenness.
No more sorrow.
No more death.

God will once again look on the world and say, “It is good.”

Until then, we live in a broken, hurting world. But even in the darkest times we don’t have to let our hearts dwell in the shadows, or the pain.

Jesus says, “Come to me.”

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matt 11:28-30 HSB

The Amplified Bible adds another layer of meaning:
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. [Jer. 6:16.]For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good–not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne. Matt 11:28-30 AMP

Whether you carry your own burden, or ache for another, do you sometimes find yourself out of step with those around you? How do you handle it?

Advent Yearning

I love Advent. In some ways, it’s like the hush before the storm. It is a kind of holy anticipation. These four (long when I was a young person, now very short) weeks build up to Christmas, the celebration of God-with-us, the Creator of the universe entering our world, and if we have room for him, our hearts.

A benefit of two years on the sidelines, first with illness, then (hopefully) temporary disability, is a forced stillness. When I can’t run out to the store, join folks on a sail or out for dinner, or even take my dog, Lily, to the beach, there is time to listen. To ponder.

Life in the slow lane is a pace that favors depth. Wells aren’t dug with occasional jabs at the dirt. Our very full, very busy modern lives too often pull us along, blurring our vision.

At that pace, we often fail to see the hurting around us. We don’t have time to intervene, even with a phone call or letter, in situations of injustice. No wonder so many want the government to take care of everything. Otherwise, we might have to step into the gap.

For instance, did you know that if every church in the U.S. supported one family who adopted one child out of the foster care system, there would be no child left aching for a home and place to belong?

Way too soon after my mother died and I released the caretaker reigns, I have had my daughters taking care of me. Somehow, this has made me more aware of the finite number of days remaining in my life, and consider my legacy.

With all this time to think I am more aware of how crazy our values can be in First-World living.

Getting the just-right paint colors or new refrigerator, a new car or grown-up toy can so easily distract from eternal needs.

What would you say if an angel appeared, telling you that God is ready to transform the world through you, but it would mean completely changing your whole life, ruining your immediate and far-ranging plans, maybe even shredding your reputation, and cutting your heart with the deepest pain, along with the greatest joy?

Could you join that Advent journey?

Or would you rather stay safe with Santa and the elves?

Well, fortunately for us, Mary already got that call, and answered well.

But we are each created to be and do what no one else can do. We each have eternal value to live, and to share.

I pray you will join me this Advent, feeling that tug, the yearning for our lives to matter, to be able to love much, and to reflect the Love that will someday return, on the Second Advent, to put all things right.

What is this time of the year like for you? What are you yearning for?